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Lighting at work – the modern office environment

Lighting in the workplace is a subject often never considered by Employers and Employees given that in workplaces there are generally hazards which result in much more immediate and potentially debilitating injuries.

The effect of poor lighting in a workplace however should not be underestimated.

For one, safe and suitable lighting is important in ensuring other hazards in the workplace, such as spillages, can be identified and rectified before accidents and injuries occur.

More directly, poor lighting in some environments can lead to eyestrain and migraines/headaches and has also been linked to Sick Building Syndrome in new and refurbished buildings.

The knock on effect of all of the above is increased absenteeism from Employees together with reduced efficiency and productivity.

The main Regulations which address lighting requirements are the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. Guidance is also given for employers, and those designing lighting systems within workplaces generally, by the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers in their Code for Lighting, and more specifically, for office environments, in Lighting Guide 7.

The Regulations state that Employers have a duty to ensure that lighting is safe and does not pose a health risk to Employees, or others, using their premises.

It follows that the duty requires Employers to:-

  1. Assess and manage Health and Safety risks attributable to lighting in the workplace
  2. Ensure Good Practice is followed when lighting the workplace
  3. Ensure the workplace is illuminated to the minimum recommended levels as contained within the Code for Lighting

In order for Employers to meet these requirements they will need to take into consideration the following (and possibly more) factors:-

  1. Is the lighting safe and suitable for the type of work being undertaken?
  2. What are the costs and benefits of different types of lighting design?
  3. Are steps in place to ensure the lighting is monitored, reviewed and maintained appropriately?
  4. Has appropriate training been provided to all staff to ensure any issues with the lighting are identified and reported?
  5. Has appropriate training and equipment been provided to those responsible for maintenance of the lighting to enable them to carry out that responsibility?
  6. Have appropriate risk assessments taken place to ensure that any risks associated with the lighting system have been removed, reduced or controlled appropriately

If proper and adequate assessment of the lighting system in a workplace is not undertaken this can lead to a number of potential hazards occurring. In relation to a modern working office environment, these would specifically include the following:-

Glare – This occurs when one part of the visual field is brighter than the average brightness to which the visual system is adapted. This can range in severity from direct interference with vision, to impairment of vision in the forms of discomfort, annoyance, irritability or distraction.

Flicker – This is light modulation at the lower frequencies and is a source of both discomfort and fatigue to an employee. In more extreme cases flicker can also cause epileptic seizures.

Veiling reflections – Reflections caused by either natural or false light can overlay the detail of a task being undertaken and affect performance as well as causing discomfort.

As can be seen in the few examples described above, poor lighting makes the visual system work harder which can then lead to symptoms of eyestrain in employees. Eyestrain manifests itself as irritation of the eyes, itchiness, blurring of vision, headaches and fatigue. Poor lighting can also have an indirect effect on employees in the office environment by the adoption of unsuitable postures leading to neck and back strain.

As an Employee, if you are suffering any of the above symptoms and believe that these may be related to the lighting in your work environment, it is important that you address your concerns with your Employer urgently.

The Code for Lighting clearly provides guidance and recommendations for minimum illumination levels in different working environments, together with the required angle for different types of lamps, to avoid all of the hazards described above. As an Employer, you should be aware of this guidance, and take steps to ensure that it is being followed, after all it is in everyone’s interests.

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